MLAP fundraiser, Perrin book launch in Edmonton Oct 23 & 24, 2010
On August 29, 2010 I got the following email from Ollie Sluzar with MLAP (Maple Leaf Alberta Projects) in Edmonton, AB, Canada:
You do not know me but I read about your daughter's case on the internet and how she went missing. This is very tragic and I am sorry that this happened to you and your family.
My name is Ollie Sluzar and I am involved with an organization called the Maple Leaf Alberta Projects (MLAP) who is a committee in Edmonton, Alberta working towards providing a sparkle of hope in the lives of teenage girls in Ukraine. Once we have completed this project it is my belief that we will continue on to do the same to bring a sparkle of hope to girls here in Canada.
Maple Leaf Alberta Projects is currently renovating a structure called the Maple Leaf Safe House that would be a safe haven and provide the education needed to divert young women from Human Trafficking.
We will be holding our "2nd Annual Fundraiser" Dinner, Live Auction and Gifts of Hope on Saturday October 23, 2010 at the Youth Unity Complex beginning at 5:00 PM with beverages, 6:00 Ukrainian Buffet, 7:00 PM Program.
Our guest speaker will be Professor Benjamin Perrin (who you are familiar with) and he will be speaking about his crusade against Human Trafficking. At this event he will also be launching his new book entitled "Invisible Chains: Canada's Underground World of Human Trafficking" (who I believe your daughter Jessie's case is mentioned) which exposes cases of human trafficking worldwide and even locally here in Canada.
Our MC for the evening will be Graham Neil, Award Winning CTV Entertainment Reporter, and our Honourary Chair will be Mrs. Marie Stelmach.
I would like to cordially invite you to our 2nd Annual Fundraiser and perhaps we can both collectively work together in bringing more awareness about Human Trafficking. Tickets for the event are $50.00 and all proceeds from the event will go towards the project in Ukraine. If you and/or anyone else you may know that would be interested in attending our fundraiser or becoming involved with our organization please email me at (email address) and I will set aside some tickets for you.
Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.
We messaged back and forth, trying to figure out a way to get me to Edmonton for this fundraiser/book launch. Then on October 21, 2010 I got the email below that I had been waiting/hoping for:
Well pack your bag my dear you are coming to Edmonton. I will email you the info once I have it confirmed.
She gave me my Air Canada flight info and Sawridge hotel info – and I was leaving on Saturday the 23rd coming back on Sunday the 24th.
I packed my bag and my laptop and I went to Edmonton. But before I went, I contacted CTV's Access TV's news show in Edmonton called ALBERTA PRIMETIME about possibly mentioning Jessie during an interview they were doing with Professor Benjamin Perrin, author of INVISIBLE CHAINS: Canada's Underground World of Human Trafficking and Andrea Burkhart from ACT (Action Coalition on human Trafficking) Alberta.
I got an email back from Danny Baldassarre, the Senior Video Journalist & Features Producer, telling me he is very interested in talking to me about Jessie. Then I got another email telling me he would like to meet me at the hotel at 3pm, before the fundraiser at 5pm, to interview me. He told me they are not just going to do a segment on their show on Jessie's case, but they are planning on doing a feature show by itself. I told him that would be great.
I got up really early on Saturday morning – October 23 and went to the airport. I was booked on the 6:00AM flight from Kamloops, BC to Vancouver, BC then from Vancouver, BC to Edmonton. AB. I got to the Edmonton airport knowing that I was getting picked up by Ollie, the person I was in email contact with about this trip. But I could not find 'him'. I put the ' around him, because it turns out Ollie is a her!
At first I was not able to find anyone looking for me. I went to the information booth and asked one of the two women there to page Ollie Sluzar to come to the booth, but no one came. About half an hour after I landed and waited, I was getting concerned. I opened my laptop and found a number for someone else she was working with and called her. She was not sure where Ollie was, but did manage to tell me that Ollie was not a he. I was getting more concerned at about 45 minutes into my wait when a woman came up to the information booth and asked them to please page Glendene Grant. I looked over and it was Ollie. I was pretty happy to see her.
She was so sorry for the delay, she was held up at the car rental place – her car was being repaired and she needed a vehicle to get me to and from the airport and the fundraiser. We drove to the hotel she had booked for me, but the room was not quite ready, so we went to the restaurant for some nachos.
When it was ready, we went up to the room – 420, the Royal Suite. It was awesome.
You went in the door and to the right was the bathroom with a huge hot tub and a huge shower. There were two sinks, a toilet and a bidey (this was my first time seeing one, but I was talking about bideys with Shona just a couple of weeks ago).
They there was a hallway to the living room with a door shutting off the bathroom. The living room was huge with a desk, several chairs, a couch and a huge flat screen TV. There was also, strangely, a large counter with a sink in it on the side of the living room, not sure what it is all about, but hey – it didn't bother me!
The bedroom had a huge king-size bed with a feather top and feather pillows that was so very comfortable. I had a great sleep that night. There was another big TV in the bedroom, not as big as the living room, but it was still pretty big. And there were French Doors to shut out the living room.
The room was amazing. And it was perfect for the interview. When Danny got there he set up his camera, lighting and sound equipment and we spent about 2 hours doing the interview. Ollie had got there just as we started the interview and as soon as it was over we left for the “2nd Annual Fundraiser" Dinner, Live Auction and Gifts of Hope at the Youth Unity Complex. The dinner was amazing. A true Ukrainian feast.
The MC for the evening was Graham Neil, Award winning CTV Entertainment Reporter, the Honourary Chair was Mrs. Marie Stelmach, wife of the Premier of Alberta, Ed Stelmach and the guest speaker was Professor Benjamin Perrin, author of Invisible Chains, Canada's Underground World of Human Trafficking.
There were about 200 people there and it was light and enjoyable. Considering the topic, it was nice to see people were having a good time. There were 3 different cameras in place – one was CTV filming Graham, their own reporter; one was Danny filming for the Access Alberta Primetime feature on Jessie he was doing; and one was OMNI, a local Edmonton station. And of course there was me, documenting everything to do with anything on Jessie's case. Taking pictures of everything, as usual.
Members from the group NASHI in Saskatoon, SK were there. This is the group that this fundraiser was being held for. They are in the middle of building Klenovi Lyst (Maple Leaf) Centre, a safe house in Stoyaniv, Ukraine. I met NASHI's president, Savelia Curniski, a wonderful Ukrainian woman who has dedicated her life to helping others from her home country who have been victims of human trafficking, giving them a place to go to heal and become survivors.
There was a woman there, Anna Radyo who was at the fundraiser last year. It affected her greatly and she wrote a poem, which she read to us and then gave us a copy. This is her poem:
I WILL NOT TURN AWAY
Dear Katie, Anya, Tanya, Oksana, Natasha, Olesia, Eva,
Your face, brutal nightmare, your sorrow moves through my heart now.
The assault to your soul is unbearable, unthinkable.
Your beautiful and sacred body and womanhood ravaged and raped!
It is too much pain. It is too much pain, my dear sisters. It is too much pain.
So I pledge to you to not close my eyes and turn my heart from you.
To take at least one piece of this overwhelming pain and pledge my commitment to you to not turn away.
I will not turn away.
by Anna Radyo
There was a very good live and a very good silent auction there. They had a bar where they sold beer and wine (by the glass and by the bottle) and they took donations. I was told the fundraiser was very successful.
During Professor Perrin's speech, he talked about Jessie, her disappearance and how she is a classic case of human trafficking, just as he did in Vancouver. At both book launches he read Jessie's pages from the book to the audience and he introduced me to them. He also told me at both events that he was going to speak to Prime Minister Stephen Harper at our nation's capital on Wednesday, October 27, 2010. And he did. He left me this message on Thursday: As promised, I raised Jessie's case both publicly in Ottawa and privately with senior officials. Thank you for your courage.
Something that Professor Perrin told us during his talk, was that at another book launch earlier in the day at the Edmonton Art Gallery, a woman came up to him to talk to him about a possible human trafficking victim. He was given enough information to call the police and before the evening fundraiser and second book launch, there was some good news, the potential victim was rescued and safe. What a wonderful story to have heard, with the best possible ending.
After Professor Perrin's speech many people came up to me. They wanted to tell me they will be praying for Jessie and they wanted to give me a hug. Many of them gave me their email address and told me to please keep in touch.
By the time we finished up and I got back to the hotel it was nearly midnight. I could not sleep right away so I put my pictures that I took on my computer, decided to take advantage of the hot tub, then I watched a bit of TV and fell asleep.
The next day Ollie picked me up at the hotel and took me to the airport for my 1:00PM flight. The trip took me from Edmonton, AB to Calgary, AB then from Calgary, AB to Kamloops, BC. I got home just before 3:00PM.
It was a very successful trip as far as getting more attention on Jessie's case and getting a good interview for a feature news TV show. I also met many wonderful new people who are now supporting and praying for Jessie's safe return.